Ed. note: Tune in to whitehouse.gov/live at 11:50 am ET to watch President Obama's remarks at the LBJ Presidential Library to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
In early December 1972, heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, braved a rare Austin ice storm to convene at the LBJ Presidential Library for a Civil Rights Symposium. Towering figures like Hubert Humphrey, Barbara Jordan, Clarence Mitchell and Earl Warren rose to the stage in the course of the two-day conference to reflect on the movement they had helped to foster while examining the issues where progress was still needed.
Among them was the host of the gathering, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the thirty-sixth President. It was he who, during the course of his five-year presidency, had sounded a death knell to racial inequality through a triumvirate of laws: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
He considered the second—the Voting Rights Act—his greatest legislative achievement. As with all of them, it had come hard. In March 1965, after a protest march in Selma, Alabama, was brutally thwarted by state troopers, he stood before a joint session of Congress knowing that his plea for the law would fall on the deaf ears of segregationists in his own party. His voice strong, his will determined, he said:
It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great president from another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept.
What happened in Selma is part of a larger movement, which reached into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really, it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.